A Tuesday forum organized by the Catholic Diocese of Yakima will include discussion about rights, family services, and resources for Yakima Valley immigrants.
The Most Rev. Joseph Tyson, who became the seventh bishop of the Yakima Diocese in May 2011, is one of the panelists. Tyson said the idea for the forum originated with the Rev. Felipe Pulido, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, who also will be speaking Tuesday.
The forum comes less than two weeks after the Catholic Bishops of Washington State publicly decried the immigration crisis. Their statement acknowledged that the United States has a right and duty to protect the nation’s borders and citizens, but added that the country also has a responsibility to “come to the aid of people who are fleeing danger and come here to build a better life for their families.”
“Current mass-deportation efforts, as well as plans to reinforce our physical borders, are neither effective nor sustainable means of addressing this international humanitarian crisis,” the bishops wrote. “This disappointing reality continues to complicate efforts of law enforcement, sow discord in our communities and harm vulnerable people.”
Tyson said that statement convinced him of the need for a forum. So did photos released in late June of a Salvadoran father and his young daughter who drowned crossing the Rio Grande on their way to the United States.
Trump administration deportation practices have led to increased fear in the immigrant community, he said.
“We’re worried about the climate of fear going on,” Tyson said. “Obama deported lots of people, but he developed a series of priorities. Under this administration, it seems more random.”
Tyson stressed that the forum will not be about debating immigration policy but rather about providing information about resources. He said that while the topic of U.S. Customs and Immigration flights out of the Yakima Air Terminal at McAllister Field might come up Tuesday, they will not be a focus of the conversation.
“There will be an update, but what we’re focusing on are the wraparound services available to the community,” he said. “In the Yakima Valley, with all the services available, we are living a solution.”
Tyson has spoken at similar forums in Moses Lake, Kennewick, Wenatchee and Grandview. He agreed to share his perspective on immigration and what he sees as the system’s challenges for Central Washington.
■ What are the key immigration issues in Central Washington, from your perspective?
One of the main issues is the shift to more arbitrary enforcement. It’s not clear that they (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are removing the most violent offenders. When we are reading information from ICE, they say they are targeting violent criminals, but when we look at the information, they are arresting others. They are targeting people, but it’s not surgical. When they do raids, they’ll grab anyone who is not documented, so they’re leaving with more people than they targeted. In Ephrata, people are getting arrested as they go in to pay their power bills. I had people hiding in the church in Mattawa last year. These are people in the country working for a better life, trying to get their lives turned around.
■ What should people know about “undocumented” residents here?
If you look at the research, 40 percent of undocumented individuals crossed the border legally. They may have come in on a student or tourist visa. There’s also been tremendous growth in H-2A visas (for temporary agricultural workers), which have doubled in eight years. They may have started working or fell out of status because they did not have the legal support to keep their visas current or to navigate our country’s very complicated visa system. There are a lot of reasons why someone can become undocumented.
■ Are there any ideas about immigration on a global level that you feel hold promise?
Canada looks at immigration by province, at labor needs and where migrants are wanted. Canada also has streamlined employment for migrants. Why can’t states determine immigration inflows, in the same way that the federal government handles the vetting? Areas with high unemployment might not want migrants, but others might. President Trump has looked at Canada in terms of labor, but I don’t know how deep. If President Trump is serious about looking at Canada, I think there is a lot we could learn.
■ What do you hope Tuesday’s forum will accomplish?
We are hoping to remind people of the inherent human dignity of each person. Are we losing that sense that every person, regardless of their legal status, has an inherent dignity and deserves to be treated with that dignity? Dignity isn’t something that comes from Mexico, or legislation. It comes from God.